Depressed Sales? It’s Not the Economy, It’s New B-to-B Buying Habits.
This economy holds great opportunities for mid-market companies selling B-to-B. It’s not too hot, it’s not not too cold. It is a perfect environment for opening new revenue channels in a measured and profitable manner. However, many mid-market companies are reluctant to take advantage of new opportunities because they are experiencing challenges in bringing in new business from the products and services they sell right now.
This is a result of a significant change in prospect purchasing habits which are demanding new skill sets on the part of mid-market companies. We saw these buying trends develop among consumer shoppers and now we are seeing them steadily creep into the B-to-B buying process resulting in a serious dampening of revenues.
The B-to-B purchaser is pre-shopping online. On average, today’s purchaser is 57% through the purchase decision process by the time the buyer wishes to speak to a sales rep. In many cases they are 70% through the buying process and this is regardless of price point, purchase complexity and incumbency (according to a joint Google/CEB survey of 1900 companies).
How does the B-to-B prospect pre-shop?
Today as in the past, when prospects are about to make purchases, they consult trusted colleagues. But where once they might have called in referred companies for initial face-to-face meetings and review, prospects are now putting off this meeting until they:
- Review referred companies’ web sites to see if they have communicated what the prospect is looking for.
- Check out trusted vertical social media to see which referred companies participate in a relevant and compelling manner
- Post questions about the referred companies on vertical media: “Who has worked with XYZ company?” or more pointedly, “We are considering doing X has anyone had experience with a company who has done this well?”
How does this manifest itself in the inside of the selling company? Here is one example:
Simple web site inquires are misinterpreted
While prospects are researching they often download white papers, case studies or ask basic questions. They do not want to engage with your sales person directly. They want to research in peace. However, now your salesperson has their name and email address. This is often misinterpreted by sales as a lead-ready-to-buy. However attempted contact made by the salesperson is either ignored or rejected by the prospect and the lead is tossed out.
Marketing and Sales descend into finger pointing.
Sales complains that marketing is delivering poor leads and marketing using analytics claims that the leads are valid.
There is truth in both sides of the argument:
The leads generated by your web site are good leads they are simply very early in the sales cycle. They require a new kind of nurturing – and one the sales and marketing team may not be prepared to deliver.
- The lead can be sent company newsletters, however, it is far more effective to send one-to-one communications with a person who is highly knowledgable about the product and facile in engaging people through the written word. This is a tall order for the traditional sales person who’s skill sets tend toward persistency and the gift of gab.
- Marketing needs to develop an arsenal of compelling and directly relevant collateral materials: market and industry studies, case studies and white papers that demonstrate the company’s commitment to the prospect’s success. Marketing may understand the product, but not deeply enough to create such relevant materials.
- The company web site must work harder and speak clearly to different types of prospects starting with the person in pain, the financial decision maker and the influencers. But the truth is most websites are not even prospect centric, they are company centric. Most company websites are companies’ speaking to themselves and must be completely reconsidered.
- Digital communications must now be presented everywhere your prospects research. However, too often social media efforts are mis-targeted to the most popular media platforms rather than where prospects actually commune online.
Embracing the new buyer and embracing change
Understanding your prospect’s new buying habits sooner rather than later is required for continued sales. Responding successfully will require internal reorganization of talent and a new strategic approach to the entire marketing and sales process:
- Re-training sales people may be successful but only to a point. Increasingly companies are re-calibrating marketing efforts to support sales more deeply.
- Re-assigning company experts into communications roles supporting marketing through active participation in social media to support marketing.
- Re-tooling marketing efforts to include seeding company information where ever prospects gather online.
- Considering reconfiguring a portion of a company’s services to be adaptable to paid search, that is, quickly and immediately consumable by a prospect and easily leveraged once a prospect has signed on as a lower level client.
- Leveraging analytics across all marketing efforts including traditional efforts including events and print media.
- And putting comprehensive lead management and communications in place (or modifying what exists to address the longer sales cycle).